There are a surprising number of reasons behind canine sneezes. You might hear your four-legged friend sternutate (yes, that’s the official name) on a daily basis and more on some days than others.
If you’ve ever been concerned enough to ask why does my dog keep sneezing, it’s no surprise. It’s something many owners have pondered.
Like us, dogs often sneeze to expel an irritant from their nose. A lot of the time dogs actually reverse sneeze and we’ll explain why later on. Unlike with us, a sneeze rarely means your dog has a cold. You’ll often hear a dog sneeze during exploration or play. The key is to ensure they have a clean, discharge-free nose if sneezing becomes more frequent than usual.
Infectious diseases that affect the upper respiratory system can cause a dog to sneeze. Anything from kennel cough to viral infection could be the cause of persistent.
Let’s look at the various reasons why dogs might sneeze and when you should be concerned.
Foreign bodies in the Dog’s nose
If there’s something in your dog’s nose that shouldn’t be there, it is likely to cause it to sneeze. For example, if your four-legged friend is partial to digging in the dirt or sniffing around the ground, the chances are that it will sniff soil, grass or the odd bug up its nose.
This will cause her to sneeze to expel the foreign material. Hunting and sporting dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors running at full speed through natural settings can also wind up with odd things (e.g., twigs or sticks) up their nose.
Sneezing will ensue as the dog’s body tries to expel the foreign invader. Sometimes, however, medical intervention is required. Suffice it to say, the list of weird stuff veterinarians have removed from doggy noses is a long one!
Signs of the presence of a foreign object in your dog’s nose include sneezing, pawing at the nose, and nosebleeds. You might also notice your pet’s breathing is noisier than normal and there might be a distinct lump on one side of the face or nose.
Foxtail grass is not a dog’s friend. It grows in abundance in fields throughout spring and as it dries out in summer, the heads scatter everywhere. They are like fishhooks and will stick to almost anything.
As a dog sniffs about, a foxtail can easily become lodged in its nose. It can work its way in deep before you notice. Because of its lance-like shape, it is extremely difficult to remove.
If there is discharge coming from your dog’s nose or if it starts sneezing frequently and intensely, it may have a seed lodged in a nasal passage. If you suspect this, visit a vet as soon as possible.
Canine nasal mites are about 1 millimeter long, so you can spot them without a magnifying glass. They live in the nasal passages and sinus cavities of dogs of all breeds, sexes, and ages. They can spread through the nose to another dog’s nose via contact but also indirectly.
If your dog has a severe case he will sneeze or reverse sneeze rapidly. His nose may bleed, he might shake his head and there may be a nasal discharge. If you know (because you can see them) or suspect your dog has nasal mites, you should take him to a vet who will prescribe the best treatment.
As they are hidden inside the nasal cavity, nasal tumors are difficult to detect. By the time there are noticeable signs and a diagnosis is made, nasal cancer is often at an advanced stage.
This type of tumor is locally aggressive so instead of spreading to other areas of the body, the cancer cells are aggressive where the tumor is located.
Nasal tumors can destroy surrounding tissues, bone plate, and even move in through the skull towards the brain. Understanding the signs and symptoms of nasal tumors is vital for early detection.
Along with a runny nose and loud snoring, excessive sneezing is a common sign of nasal tumors. The symptoms of nasal tumors are similar to other ailments and so they can be misdiagnosed and treated as a different condition.
The medication prescribed may alleviate the sneezing temporarily but it will eventually return. If you notice your pet sneezing even after medication, don’t hesitate to see a vet for a further examination.
Nasal fungal (Aspergillus) infection
Just a word of warning. There is a log of big words in this section. Words I had never heard of prior to doing a lot of research to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. I had to check a dictionary to make sure someone hadn’t made them all up for a laugh!
Aspergillus is a species of common mold found in the environment (inside and out), including in dust, straw, grass cuttings and hay. Dogs are susceptible to infection from this mold if their immune system has been weakened by another illness.
Young adult dogs with a long head and nose (known as dolichocephalic breeds) and dogs with a medium-length head and nose (known as mesaticephalic breeds) seem to be particularly susceptible to nasal aspergillus infection.
The preferred treatment for dogs with nasal aspergillosis is an antifungal drug administered directly into the dog’s nose and nasal passages under anesthesia.
Some dogs — especially small breeds — sneeze when they’re excited. Have you noticed how your dog jumps about and sneezes when you come home from work? Or does your dog sneeze when he meets a four-legged friend and wants to play? Does your dog sneeze at the sight of his favorite toy?
Well, sneezing for these reasons is nothing to worry about. In these situations, a sneeze is a happy form of vocal communication that means he wants to play.
Experts in dog behavior have spotted that dogs often wrinkle their nose and curl their lips when playing and having fun. It could be this action that tickles a dog’s nose and triggers a sneeze.
Can you imagine if we sneezed when we became excited? There would no longer be a need for clapping at sports events anymore. You’d just hear a cacophony of sneezes every time your team was doing well!
These are breeds with very short muzzles such as the Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Pekingese, and Pug. The nasal passages in these breeds are compressed, which can trigger sneezing spells when there’s an upper respiratory infection or exposure to irritants.
Reverse sneezing is very common in dogs. To reverse sneeze a dog usually extends its head and neck pulls back its lips and inhales repeatedly and through its nose.
A loud sort of snorting noise is heard with each inhalation. Often, a dog will reverse sneeze a few times in a row for about 10 to 15 seconds.
Reverse sneezing and regular sneezing are closely related reflexes. Both serve to expel an irritant from the upper part of the respiratory tract. Irritation to the nasal passages causes regular sneezing. Irritation to the area behind the nasal cavities and above the soft palate causes dogs to reverse sneeze.
There’s no need to panic if your dog has the occasional episode of reverse sneezing as it’s perfectly normal. However, if your dog experiences frequent bouts of reverse sneezing then you should take notice.
Excessive reverse sneezing indicates that whatever is irritating your pet’s nasal area isn’t being expelled. Make an appointment with your vet if you think your dog’s reverse sneezing is excessive.
Sudden sneezing episodes
A playful sneeze is more like a snort that quickly expels air. If your dog is suddenly experiencing episodes of sneezing and he’s not in a playful mood, seems in pain, uncomfortable or has a nasal discharge, make an appointment with your vets so they can identify and address the root cause.
If you take them to the vets
If you do decide it’s necessary to take them to the vets then it’s always good to know what to expect when you get there. These are the things that may well happen:
- Consultation – your vet will want to talk to you about your dog to understand its history. They’ll want to know if they have had any past problems which may have led to the symptoms you’re now seeing. They’ll ask whether they’re eating, drinking and acting as usual (apart from the sneezing) – is there anything else that hasn’t seemed quite right?
- Blood Test – This may or may not happen but your vet may decide they need to take some blood to perform further analysis on the condition.
- Physical Examination – Your vet will want to physically examine your dog for any other issues that may not have been apparent to you but could be to their trained eye.
- Scans – Your dog may need to have X-Rays or other imaging scans, such as CT, MRI or ultrasound. It’s unlikely your vet will have this equipment (unless you’re really lucky) so they will probably be referred to a specialized clinic.
If your pet is distressed then it may also be required to sedate them or even put them under a general anesthetic so they can examine them internally via a scope that is inserted into their mouth. If deemed necessary, a small amount of tissue may be taken for further analysis.
The thing to remember here is this, it’s never nice having to take your pet to the vets. It’s not nice for you and it’s not nice for your best friend (talking about your dog here) – but don’t delay this kind of decision. It’s always better to catch things sooner rather than later, so if you’re in doubt then trust your instincts and call your vet.
As you can see above, a dog sneezing can be quite normal and, more often than not, it’s a sign that your dog is happy, well-adjusted, and excited.
But there can be other reasons for a sneeze and if you suspect it is caused by something health-related be safe and consult your vet for a professional opinion.
Finally, if your dog is moping around then could they be depressed? Take a look at this article that will tell you the signs to check for!